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Proving a negative is never an easy task. Unfortunately, that’s what many landlords are forced to do when fighting deadbeat tenants.

The most likely time that a tenant will dispute the condition of a rental property is when they are in court fighting an eviction or asking for their security deposit back. That’s because they realize they can get an offset against what they may owe in rent or damages by complaining to the judge that the property was poorly managed.

Often, judges grant tenants the leeway to raise every concern imaginable — from bedbugs to ghosts. Sometimes landlords are caught completely off guard.

Move-in/move-out condition reports are a landlord’s secret weapon for successfully managing properties, and for defending against frivolous tenant claims.

The move-in/move-out reports accomplish a number of things:

The process proves to the tenant that the landlord’s paying attention to the condition of the property.

The tenant realizes they’ll have a hard time proving their claims in court, and may back off. The chance of that is even greater if the landlord’s taking pictures or video.

The move-in/move-out reports force a tenant to pipe up about needed repairs immediately, rather than sitting passively by for months before raising the concern. If the item is not noted on the move-in report, the landlord can ‘prove a negative’ — that the damage was not there when the tenant moved in.

The forms help in resolving legitimate condition issues so they don’t come up at the end of the lease term — or during the eviction.

They help a landlord track repair and maintenance calls and analyze costs long-term.

To make the most of move-in/move-out inspections, follow these tips:

Have the tenant present, especially at move-in.

Use the same format for both the move-in and move-out report. Landlords can find move-in/move-out condition reports on the AAOA Landlord Forms Page.

Ask tenants to sign the reports and note any items of concern.

Allow tenants a few days after move-in to update the report. That helps bolster the landlord’s case that any damage was caused by the new tenant.

Include a repair request policy in the lease or house rules that creates a paper trail.

Fix any items that are flagged at move-in. Keep receipts of any repairs.

Save all tenant communications, including notes of phone calls and copies of emails in the tenant’s file.

Offer tenants a ‘pre-move-out’ inspection a month before the lease ends while they still have time to clean and restore the property.

With AAOA, landlords have resources at their fingertips. Check out our new Landlord Forms Page.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your rental housing investment, including rental forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at

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